Computerworld has warned of ongoing scams in which criminals are fraudulently posing as support personnel, typically from Microsoft but also from security companies like Symantec and McAfee (or manufacturers like Dell).The alleged support personnel will typically call victims to inform them that their computer is infected or malfunctioning in order to sell them fraudulent and unnecessary software or services and/or gain remote access to their computer. In the latter case, the fraudsters will then steal sensitive data or install malware. These fraudsters can be fairly convincing, using a variety of tactics. For example, in some cases they have demonstrated supposed evidence by directing victims to open Windows system logs, and highlighted errors messages, which are, in fact, typical system errors that occur regularly.
Computerworld’s warning comes over a year after the FTC acknowledged and addressed this exact problem, eventually shuttering six firms responsible for these sorts support scams. However, these scams may be a fairly permanent fixture in the threat landscape.
Last week, our office received a call that fit Computerworld’s warning to a tee. The caller, who claimed to be calling from Microsoft, even provided step-by-step instructions for navigating to system logs, in order to demonstrate supposed evidence of infections and malfunctions. The caller ultimately sought to convince victims to install software, which would then allow him to remotely access and control their computer.
As Computerworld highlights, these scams persist because of “the difficulty regulators have in playing Whac-a-Mole, where for every suppressed fraudster, one or more new operators pop up.” Clearly, it is important that users be aware of these attacks, and follow the appropriate best practices. Most importantly, never give away personal information or control of your computer to any unsolicited caller. If a caller pressures you to purchase or pay for any goods or services, just hang up. If you believe you may need tech support, call the appropriate vendor directly using contact information from the vendor’s official website, or from a software package or receipt.